Backpacking on Bell Mountain

As the racing season winds down for the year and seasons change, my cycling has dwindled to nearly nothing. Beyond the trip a few weeks ago with my buddy Nathan, I haven’t been on the bike at all, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been outside. This past weekend I headed out into the wild with a couple friends for a backpacking trip and it was fantastic!

I try to get out for some time in my hammock every year when things start to cool off. As the weather started to turn cooler, I was happy to get an email from a group of friends that I have backpacked with before. There are 11 of us on the email thread, but due to schedule conflicts only 3 of us could make it happen this time. Myself, Jason and Chad made plans to head to Bell Mountain Wilderness Area in Mark Twain National Forrest on Friday 11-3. The plan was to hike in Friday evening after dark and camp on top of Bell Mountain through Sunday morning.

I met the guys at the northern trail head right before dark. With daylight getting shorter every day, sunset was at 6:00PM on the nose. We signed in at the kiosk and hit the trail as the woods went dark. It wasn’t long at all before we had our headlamps on to illuminate the rocky trail.

The hike from the north trailhead to the top of Bell is only 4 miles total- 2.5 miles of spur trail from the trailhead to the main loop and 1.5 miles from the spur/loop intersection to the top of the mountain. Elevation gain is modest at 1500′, as you mostly walk along a ridge.

We took our time and made the hike in about two hours. Once up top, we found a spot to camp and got setup. Being 8PM, we gathered some firewood and made use of the rock fire ring in our camp. Hanging around a campfire in the woods is a heavenly thing to do!

I went to my hammock fairly early (around 9:30), hoping to get some great rest. Going to bed so early meant that the night was a long one, but overall I slept ok. I just woke up a lot.   The wind had been gusty, which had led to my waking, but I rested well.

Saturday morning’s light exposed what was a completely socked in sky. The normal gorgeous view of the valley below was nothing but a mass of fog and mist. Visibility was likely about 100 yards. Oh well. We were in the woods enjoying nature and the view we got was perfectly fine.

The day was spent doing mostly nothing other than chores. First was breakfast and the morning routines. Then we moved camp to a little better spot about 50 yards away. The hope was the new spot was protected form the wind a bit better.

After moving camp, I needed to get water. The other two guys had brought 4 liters, but I only brought 2 liters. On Bell there is no water source, so I had to hike to get it. The choices were to stay on the Bell loop and hit Joe’s creek, which would be about 8 miles round trip or bushwhack off the East side of Bell to the creek in the valley. This is a much more rigorous way to go, but only about a mile one way. Since I had never been down the hard side, I decided to do that.

When at the top of Bell, the trial runs north/south along a ridge. We were at the high point and I assumed that if I hiked south along the ridge trail to a point where I was lower, then bushwhacked down the east slope, it would be less steep and thus easier. I did just that and was able to pick my way down through the trees, rocks and debris along the steep slope. It was quite a hike down, but I eventually made it. I filtered my water and then started the arduous task of bushwhacking back up the steep slope. It was a hard task, but it felt good to accomplish it.

Once back at the trail, I hiked the ridge back north to the high point. Due to my north/south part of the trip along the trail adding in mileage, I estimate I ended up with about 4 miles of walking, most of that being really rugged and steep. In the interest of economy, I probably would have been better off hiking the 8 miles to get water from Joe’s creek, but now I can say I have been down the other way.

When I got back, I was please to see that the other guys had gathered wood for the evening. I felt bad I hadn’t taken part in the exercise, but I was thankful they had. I made lunch, took a short nap and just hung out for the rest of the afternoon.

In the evening, we all made our dinners and then worked together to get the damp wood going for an evening fire. Hanging out around the fire chatting and enjoying the woods was a great way to wrap up the day.

Once again, a bit after 9:00 I headed to my hammock. I was a bit concerned when I got there and saw that most everything was damp. The fog was so thick that water was condensing on every surface, even under the tarp. There wasn’t much I could do about it, so I crawled in and got ready for what I hoped would be a great sleep.

After just an hour or so, the wind started gusting erratically. It would go from nearly still, building to about 15 mph and then still again. The gusts were such a change from the still parts that it succeeded in waking me every time the wind blew. This made for a really, really long night. I didn’t sleep much and found myself so very tired when the sun finally came up.

Jason was already up when I rolled out and had gotten the fire going again. We hung out around the fire and had breakfast before going back to our individual sites to break down camp. Once we were packed up and the fire was extinguished, we started the hike back to our cars. The 4 miles back seemed much longer than it had on our way in Friday night.

Weekend trips like these are what I look forward to this time of year. The weather turns cooler, the bugs go away and sitting around a campfire just seems like the right thing to do. It is trips like this that make me dream of doing a long hike like the AT or PCT. The best part of it all is it helps me to take the time to “smell the roses”. I hope you will take the time to get out and enjoy nature this fall. It is a great way to slow down and get away from the hustle and bustle.

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